Hey man, Rob Lee here and I have something on my mind: The Birth of a Nation. For those who don’t remember, The Birth of a Nation is a 2016 film depicting Nat Turner’s uprising in the antebellum south. The film had Oscar buzz which was later derailed but allegations that Nate Parker, the film’s star, director and producer, sexually assaulted a classmate in college in 1999. The following is a bit of a review on The Birth of a Nation.
The film shares its title with D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation also called The Klansman which was released as a Klansman recruiting film over a hundred years prior to this film. Griffith’s film made between $50 and $100 million compared to Parker’s $16 million. Also, with about 3000 more review’s Griffith’s film is rated higher than Parker’s on Imdb. A Klan recruiting video outgrossed a film about a black uprising but America’s post racial. Parker’s film has that distinction of sexual assault allegations but it would be irresponsible to ignore that this country has a rich history of racism. Griffith’s film – The Klansman was shown at the White House by Woodrow Wilson. That racism I feel is reinforced in the respective box office and dollars spent.
Let’s get right into it, Birth of a Nation is an OK movie. It’s not groundbreaking but it’s well done. The first half of the movie is a bit slow for me but the latter half takes off. The film is very effective in showing how shitty slavery is. The film is similar to Braveheart to me – minus the war paint.
The film succeeded in eliciting emotions from me. For instance, the scene when Cherry is “delivered” to Elizabeth Turner was reminiscent to someone getting a new toy. Elizabeth was gleeful to get a new thing. Black people were only a thing, dehumanized. He even the scene at Joseph Randall’s plantation and the little white girl has the black girl on a leash.
Samuel Turner reminded me of how people in a position of power – white people in this film – are supportive of you until you infringe on their interest. For instance, after Cherry was brutally raped Samuel gave written permission to Nat to go tend to her. Written-fucking-permission and he reminded Nat that most owners wouldn’t allow that. Samuel, although in a position of power, was like a lower level white person – hanging and seeking love from his blacks but once the slight inkling that he would be welcomed into “whitelandia” he switched up. He didn’t switch up did he? He reverted to his factory settings.
The battle scene could have been a bit longer but the buildup was slow but solid enough to make it effective. The fall out is similar to what has happened historically. If white people are uncomfortable, then someone else has to pay, examples have to be made. Just today black, still second class citizens, have been replaced by Muslims and Mexicans.
Nat Turner’s hanging was something I nearly turned away from. Like I don’t like the visual of hanging overall – especially when it’s viscerally shot. The walk out to the lynching was interesting. We have all seen the shitty, racist and dumbass white men during the film. As this point, we see how rabid the white women were. It wasn’t a mistake to show numerous instances of white women acting like mad dogs at a public execution. White people only act like this – albeit in film – to public murder. That hanging looked like the set-up for a fourth of July festival. Also, not a mistake. The murder of black men is as American as independence. Are all men created equally?
In summation, Nate Parker isn’t Nat Turner. I think the Oscar buzz was something to say that people in a position of power are “OK” with “revisiting the ugly past but by the way they’re also going to revisit the not so distant past.” The Birth of a Nation is a movie that people need to see – it as flaws like any movie but it made me think. It made me think of my job and intellect (i.e. being literate) got me inside the house, while brothers, hell my own biological brother, and is outside “tending to the field”. It makes me think about how nuanced racism is – racism was based in ignorance and has morphed, in my opinion, to classism. The film helped me revisit these thoughts and feelings that weren’t top of mind but deserve my attention. Birth of a Nation Deserves your attention.